BY: Jaya Jaitly
How corruption and policy failure hobbled Dilli Haat, a unique experiment in craft promotion.
Dilli Haat, the popular crafts marketplace in Delhi, was set up in 1994 to provide a direct marketing platform for needy artisans to escape the grip of middlemen. It was to be the kind of “safety net” that governments need to provide to small artisans when the market reach of large corporates spreads rapidly. Fairly priced entry tickets and stall rents and a rotational structure of a fortnight’s occupancy per craftsperson were worked out.
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The idea was it should break even for government and provide a marketing platform and better incomes and livelihood for small craft producers. If market logic is to be followed and the crafts profession treated as an economic activity, as also a part of a living tradition and heritage, goods had to be sold at realistic prices, which covered not only manufacture but travel, stay in Delhi for a fortnight, and rent of the stalls. No subsidies were considered necessary if suitable infrastructure was provided. Craftspersons were to have the opportunity of engaging directly with customers, getting a fair price, acquiring the confidence to compete in a city, and accessing the purchasing power of the growing middle class.
Dilli Haat is a combined venture of the New Delhi Municipal Council, Delhi Tourism (which manages it), and the ministry of textiles. A coordination committee of representatives of these establishments, along with the architect and this writer, met regularly to identify problems and solutions. Minutes of these meetings were circulated. Decisions were acted upon.
Implementation was monitored regularly. This process kept everyone responsive and committed to maintaining the Haat’s role as a unique and innovative marketing system for craftspeople. Tata Consultancy Services, in a study for the ministry of textiles in the late 1990s, found it the most suitable form of marketing handlooms.
The original idea and six-year effort to establish Dilli Haat was this writer’s — hence the anguish in the title, because within a few years, tussles over turf and seniority between representatives of the ministry of textiles and Delhi Tourism saw a quiet burial of the committee structure and mutual consultation, opening the doors wide to ad hocism and corruption.
Interestingly, the problem with Dilli Haat lies in its tremendous success as a venture that has became a win-win situation for Delhi Tourism, NDMC (which gets a portion of the income), and a big earning opportunity for craftspersons. A fortnight’s total turnover at the Haat now exceeds Rs 5 crore. There is no one who does not say, “We love to go to Dilli Haat!” It is written about in children’s books, has become a part of student curricula, and is highlighted in international guidebooks.
In 1994, the entry ticket was Rs 10. Stall rents started at Rs 75 for small spaces and platforms to accommodate very small producers selling paper or clay toys. Rent for 180 pucca stalls was Rs 2,250 per fortnight. By 2012, a flat rent for all sizes and shapes of stalls was arbitrarily hiked to Rs 8,470 per fortnight. This became tough for poorer craftspeople to afford and easier for traders to step in. On an average, over 150,000 people visit Dilli Haat monthly, bringing in handsome earnings to Delhi Tourism from entry tickets and rents from food and craft stalls. Today, Delhi Tourism earns a profit from Dilli Haat that is only exceeded by revenues from its sale of liquor.
Delhi Tourism knocked down 44 stalls for so-called security and beautification during the Commonwealth Games, reducing space for craftspeople. Then it added 25 small makeshift stalls charging Rs 30,000 per fortnight. Pickle traders take prime space paying over Rs 1 lakh a month. Another encroachment is sundry “brand promotion” kiosks at high rates. These unilateral steps are justified as “policy decisions” and “financials” that ignore the rights of genuine craftspeople and negate the very purpose of the marketplace. Many stalls have been handed over for permanent occupation to government agencies no different from middlemen. Traders have printed visiting cards giving the number of their “permanent” stalls, brazenly challenging the rotational concept. Customers regularly notice and comment on this, but no one cares. It is easy to guess why. Traders offer to pay Rs 3-4 lakh as bribes to be allotted a stall, or
Rs 50,000 as inducements to genuine allottees to sublet their stalls. Honest officials who try to implement regulations have been subjected to vigilance inquiries while the crooks are always one step ahead.
The ministry of textiles’ allotment of 162 stalls through a lottery system at regional outposts is often a mockery. They are “managed” at the local level. Allotment letters and identity cards have been forged. There are multiple registrations under different names to enable repeated allotments. Politicians and officials are approached to use influence. A party chief in Bihar once pleaded on behalf of a quasi-permanent Kashmiri occupant who was being displaced for just a fortnight. Favours and patronage have taken over, making it difficult for honest officials to resist pressure.
Roofing is falling apart, leaving goods unprotected from the rain, and public toilets that were once the best maintained in the capital now leak or have no water. An alternative “VIP” pay toilet has come up, contradicting egalitarianism. Simultaneously, the Delhi government sees it fit to spend crores on two more haats which it struggles to activate.
The original purpose of Dilli Haat is forgotten. Making money is now the only goal, whether it is through indifferent public policy or private greed. Some years ago, an appreciative visitor sent a letter to the editor of a national newspaper saying, “Why can’t all of India be like Dilli Haat?” Instead, Dilli Haat has now become like the state of the nation; corrupted, inequitable and shabby, yet somehow holding up.
The lesson to take home is that Lokpals or Jan Lokpals cannot eradicate corruption. Both are monsters of different hues. For anyone who wants to deliver good governance, intelligently formulated, equitable policies, which are strictly implemented with total transparency, alone can work wonders.
The writer is former president of the Samata Party